Eritrean envoy says no justification for UN sanctions

* Envoy urges UN council to take up its Ethiopia dispute

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 1 (Reuters)

Eritrea’s U.N. envoy denied that his country has been supporting Islamist rebels intent on toppling neighboring Somalia’s fragile government and said there was no reason to sanction Asmara.

Ambassador Araya Desta was reacting to a Ugandan-drafted resolution circulated to members of the U.N. Security Council that would impose sanctions against the Red Sea state, including an arms embargo, travel bans and asset freezes for members of Eritrea’s government and military. [ID:nN19531413]

The United States and other council members accuse Eritrea of supplying al Shabaab rebels with money and weapons as they fight to topple the U.N.-backed transitional government of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the official leader of the virtually lawless Horn of Africa nation.

“The draft resolution is based on unfounded accusations against Eritrea on the issue of Somalia,” Desta said in a letter to the Security Council made public on Tuesday.

“Eritrea does not favor or support a military solution, as it is convinced that there can be no military settlement in Somalia,” he said. “Nor does Eritrea favor one party as opposed to another. It does not work with one against others.”

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki said last week that the international community would regret any moves to impose sanctions on the country.

In his letter, Desta hinted that Eritrea believes al Shabaab should be part of any future political solution for its neighbor in the Horn of Africa.

“Eritrea firmly holds that a durable and sustainable solution requires the participation of all key Somali actors in an inclusive political process,” he said.

It is unclear when the council will vote on the resolution, if at all. Diplomats say changes will be needed to avoid a veto from China and Russia, which dislike sanctions in general.

Fighting in Somalia has killed nearly 19,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and made 1.5 million homeless.

A U.N. arms monitoring body, set up to record violations of a 1992 arms embargo on Somalia, has said Asmara is sending plane- and boatloads of munitions to Somali rebels, as well as providing them with logistical support.

Somalia has been mired in chaos for nearly two decades and there is little sign the latest attempt to establish a central government is proving any more successful than the 14 previous efforts since a dictator was ousted in 1991.

Desta also urged the Security Council “not to ignore the real issue behind many conflicts in our region” — namely its long-running border dispute with Ethiopia, with which it fought a 1998-2000 border war that killed 70,000 people.

The envoy said council members must act against breaches of international law by Ethiopia and take steps “to ensure that Ethiopia … withdraws its troops from sovereign Eritrean territories that it is illegally occupying.” (Editing by Vicki Allen) ((louis.charbonneau@thomsonreuters.com; +1 212 355 6053; Reuters Messaging: louis.charbonneau.reuters.com@reuters.net))